The Stockholm Central Station, track 13-14.

by Tangelian Proudfoot

How frustrating is it not to notice that your commuter train just left, seconds before you made it up to the platform, running up the seemingly endless stairs from below? Just fifteen minutes... but sometimes fifteen minutes can seem like an eternity.

The waiting space is, as usual, crowded with people, and all the seats are taken, even the indoor ones inside the two waiting rooms. The sun shines down from a clear sky, but an icy, and not at all spring like wind is trying its best to make me feel cold and miserable. I sigh as I lean myself against one of the outer walls of one of the waiting rooms, trying to capture a little warmth from the sunlight.

Then I suddenly get that feeling. It is like the sensation you get the seconds before you recognize a familiar face in a crowd. I look around, but no, there is no one I know here... but then, with a smile, I realize what caused my reaction.

He is standing there right beside me. I guess he must be in his 30's, rather short, dark, short hair, a short beard, blue eyes behind a pair of small glasses. He is dressed in a leather jacket and what looked as a little thicker T-shirt underneath, and ordinary blue jeans. In his left hand he carries a rather worn plastic bag from one of the city malls. In other words, he looks pretty ordinary, and I guess I wouldn't even have noticed him - if it wasn't for the book in his right hand - The Lord of the Rings, Harper Collins paperback New Line Cinema cover edition. It is clear though, he is so caught up in the reading that he is just barely aware of the world around him; eyes locked on the text. I study him for a quiet moment. You can tell from the back of the book that he is a first time reader; (or that he at least hasn't read this edition before); because the back of the book has been twisted just in line with the page he is reading for the moment. I immediately can tell he is somewhere by book VI of "The Return of the King", though I can't see the number of the page.

For a moment, I am very tempted to speak to him, and ask him what he thinks of the book, and why he is reading it. But he is so caught up in the reading, and it is clear that he is drawn deeper and deeper into the story, his face slowly getting closer to the book, so I decide to remain silent.

Sometimes, living in a crowded city can have its advantages. One of them is that you easily can play invisible, pretending that you just *happen* to stand or sit where you do, for no particular reason. In reality, you chose that spot out carefully, because you wanted to find out things about someone who is standing or sitting close. When I realize we are both waiting for the same train, I decide to play a little game with myself, and try to find out the answers to my questions by merely study him in silence.

By a coincidence, I don't wear my One Ring around my neck (it is safely tucked in, fastened in its chain with a safety pin in my right trouser pocket), so I am pretty certain he won't notice anything strange about me, even if his eyes would leave the book for a moment.

When the train finally arrives, I quietly walk up behind him, and manage to get a seat right in front of him. He returns to the book immediately after he's seated, and when the train starts moving, I try to catch glimpses of the pages, and find out what part he actually is reading. He is now holding the book so close I can't even make out the page numbers. He is a pretty slow reader, I assume he is a Swede, (considering the worn out plastic bag) so he is being extra careful not to miss anything. I catch brief glances of his face... and suddenly I notice his eyes go wide with horror for a quick moment. I try to restrain a smile, looking out of the window.

When I finally can make out the name of the chapter, it makes perfect sense... he is right in the middle of "The Land of Shadow"... page 905...

I think I have my answers now. He has probably seen "The Fellowship of the Ring" and loved it. When he found the English version of the book in the mall, he bought it, and kept it in the same bag that he got then. The book is pretty free from scratches, save the bent back, so he has either been very careful with it, or read it as often as he could, compensating for his rather slow pace.

Suddenly I see the familiar sign of my station's name, sliding up by the window. Smiling, I rise and make way through the aisle. By the doors, I take a last quick look at the reader. He's still sitting there... and yet; he's not...

And the commuter train sighs, doors closing; and continues down the tracks.